Heartburn in 10 questions

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 Heartburn in 10 questions

As unpleasant as it is frequent, heartburn can sometimes ruin your daily routine. What causes heartburn? How can you avoid it? What are the treatments? To take stock, Doctissimo answers the 10 most frequent questions.

What is heartburn?

Heartburn, or epigastric heartburn, is defined by a feeling of bitterness or acidity localized in the stomach. This pain often occurs after meals or while lying down. They can also occur after eating certain acidic or fatty foods.

What is pyrosis?

Unlike heartburn, which is limited to the gastric sac, pyrosis is characterized by ascending heartburn from the stomach. This sensation is accompanied by acid reflux to the esophagus, which can sometimes reach the throat or even the mouth, leaving an impression of acid burning.

What is gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD?

45% of the French population would be affected by gastroesophageal reflux disease. They occur when part of the stomach contents passes into the esophagus. They are considered pathological if they alter the patient's life or if they lead to lesions in the esophagus. This is because stomach secretions are very acidic and can cause real heartburn along the way.

What is a hiatus hernia?

Normally, the stomach is below the diaphragm, with the breathing muscle separating the abdomen from the chest. This muscle is pierced to allow the passage of the esophagus, which connects the mouth to the stomach. However, sometimes this orifice widens, allowing the upper part of the stomach to rise to the level of the thorax: this is a hiatus hernia.

What causes heartburn?

Heartburn can have many causes:

  • Some medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, inhibit cyclo-oxygenase. This enzyme controls the secretion of mucus and bicarbonates, which are the main protective factors of the stomach;
  • Burns can also be the manifestation of motor disturbances in the digestive tract or a consequence of GERD.
When such burns occur for the first time and persist, it is advisable to consult a doctor. Only he or she will be able to tell the difference and reassure you.

What factors contribute to heartburn?

Certain foods can promote heartburn, such as fatty foods, citrus fruits, sodas, raw vegetables, coffee, fruit, and spicy foods.
It is also advisable to avoid heavy meals or to go to bed right after eating. Finally, tobacco and alcohol, which stimulate acidic gastric secretions, should be avoided.

When should I see a doctor?

If the burns are only episodic, there is no need to consult. However, if they affect the patient's quality of life or if they become too frequent (more than twice a week), then a doctor should be consulted. Other signs may also alert the patient: burns that occur after the age of 50, bleeding, weight loss or loss of appetite.

How is heartburn treated?

For episodic burns, simple antacids are enough to effectively relieve pain; 
If the pain persists, your doctor may consider treatment with anti-secretory agents, such as proton pump inhibitors, which block the gastric secretions that cause the burns.

What should I eat when I suffer from heartburn?

Apart from certain categories of foods that can aggravate burns: alcohol, fatty foods, acids, sodas, raw vegetables; there is no general rule to follow, apart from splitting one's meals. Each person being unique, it is best to favor foods that do not cause these burns and to rule out the others empirically. Most often, you can focus on lean meats, fish, eggs, but also cereals and foods rich in fiber.

 Is heartburn dangerous?

Although embarrassing and unpleasant, heartburn is not harmful to your health. However, if it becomes too frequent, a doctor should be consulted to rule out other conditions such as GERD or ulcers.

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